NewTracks New Artist: Kathy Bates Motel

NewTracks New Artist: Kathy Bates Motel

Kathy Bates Motel have done things a bit backwards. They’ve never played a show, but they have recorded a full album of nine originals plus a cover of Robert Palmer’s Johnny and Mary. It’s kind of a concept album, chronicling the rise and fall of a relationship looked at from both sides, with self-effacing humour and honesty. Their debut single Damaged Goods is really about co-dependancy, the bones of the track dating back to a bunch of songwriting stints Joe Lonie had in response to Supergroove breaking up.

Yes, it’s that Joe Lonie, the quietly clever one who is also a screenwriter and director of outstanding music videos. He’s back with a bang, and another talented band that includes Jol Mulholland, Milan Borich and Kathy Bates, no, sorry Morgan Leary, who sings and plays bass and guitar. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, despite sometimes singing about grim aspects of life,” Joe quips. The song was featured on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation in March this year.

Okay we know you’re not exactly new, but humour us. What’s your name, where are you from and what do you play?

I’m Joe Lonie, originally from Dunedin, but musically I’d have to say I grew up in Auckland. I sing, play bass, guitar, keyboards and I’m amazing on the glockenspiel.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I’m a self-taught musician. I had a good relationship with my high school music teacher and she let me disappear into the practice rooms whenever I wanted.

The bulk of my music training was Supergroove. We toured together for about seven years from 1990 – 1997, and then again from 2007 – 2017. I wrote most of the songs in collaboration with Karl Steven. I played bass and sang sometimes. I directed the music videos.

What’s the background story of how Kathy Bates Motel came to be and who else is involved?

My band includes Morgan Leary singing and playing bass and guitar. Jol Mulholland on guitar and keyboards. Jol also does all the engineering and production on our recordings. Milan Borich plays the drums. Morgan and I became friends from working on some short films together. She had an old bass guitar and I helped her get it fixed up. We started jamming on some simple covers for fun and then moved on to some original songs I’d been sitting on for a while. We thought it would be fun to record them so we contacted Jol and Milan. To our great pleasure and surprise they liked us and the songs enough that we all talked about becoming a band.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

In the early days of songwriting for Supergroove Karl and I were always trying to make each other laugh. It looks like I have circled back around to something like that, only now my sense of humour is more cynical. I’ve gone through many different phases as a songwriter. Some of it turned out a lot more earnest than I would ever have intended. A major breakthrough I made was realising that a more interesting way to express something is to do it indirectly, ideally with some humour.

I began using language like we use it real life. I stopped taking myself so seriously. I learned that my angst is not unique and I started to enable myself to poke fun at it. Everything became less like therapy and more like fun, which is what it should be.

How did you come up with Kathy Bates Motel as the name of the new project?

We wanted a name that was a place you could go to if you ever wanted to listen to our music. A place that describes the sounds, the vibe and the ideas you would be hearing. Kathy Bates Motel works for us because it’s not too serious, not overly macho, and not too fancy or expensive. We love pop culture, and horror movies in particular, so the references to Psycho and Misery are a nice bonus.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

For me personally, the highlight is doing the work. We’ve recorded a full album and shot two videos all off our own bat. My idea of fun is spending 6 weeks on an edit, or 6 hours finding the right guitar sound. I’m addicted to making stuff. It’s my happy place. It brings me in touch with interesting, creative people who care about the same things I care about. It’s fun and exciting to have a shared creative goal. Through the process, there’s always lots of laughs and moments of inspiration.

What’s the story behind Damaged Goods?

The song is about co-dependancy and I’ve done my best to depict the situation with an understanding of both sides. Something that helps with that is Morgan singing lead and me singing backup. I’m interested in people, but I’m not particularly interested in myself. These days I try to look outward more than inward. Songwriting is inevitably personal, but what I hope for is that it can somehow also be universal. My bandmates have helped me so much with that.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I really like how Morgan sings the song. Her delivery is straight-up and unsentimental. She brings a world-weary toughness to it, which is echoed by Jol’s guitar and Milan’s drums. That’s what the song needed. My early demos of it had potential, but the delivery was a bit tepid and lame. I’m happy with where the lyrics ended up. I like any love song that drops the F-bomb and it was kind of a lucky turn out that “magic words” somehow found a way of rhyming with “damaged goods”.

What makes Damaged Goods stand out for you as a single?

We’ve got better songs, but this one is a good introduction. It shows who we are, what we do and where we are coming from. It’s a pretty modest opening statement, kind of like politely putting your hand up awaiting your turn to speak, but that suits us fine because it’s honest and we don’t want to write cheques our butt can’t cash.

Who did you write/record/produce the single with and where? 

Morgan and I recorded everything initially in my kitchen. It was a very relaxed and no-pressure way to get our vocals done, which were the only things we really wanted to keep from these sessions. All of the other kitchen parts were useful as placeholders for Milan to drum along to, but because as an engineer I have no idea what I’m doing we always knew that everything else would need to be replaced at some point.

Milan recorded his drums for all 10 songs on the album in an exhausting day and a half at the big room in The Lab. He got a little frustrated at times because he was learning the songs while recording, but he was brilliant. On the fly, we threw an uncharacteristically aggressive drum solo into a particular song as a way of letting him blow off some steam and it instantly became the best part of that song. Over the following weeks and months, all of the rest of the instruments were replaced up in Jol’s space at The Lab – affectionately known as The Oven.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

If it was up to me, and it most definitely is not, I would hope that a listener might get the tune stuck in their head, and maybe they would sing along at some point. I’ve always been a sucker for a catchy melody. All of my favourite music is something that compels me to sing along. That’s what I look for in music and that’s what I strive for every time out as a songwriter. I’m always on the lookout for a melody that is touching without being cloying, and catchy without being annoying. If Damaged Goods could do that for somebody out there I would love it.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

The determining factor for me is whether or not the song yields interesting video ideas that would be fun and satisfying to do. The idea is to be making stuff, because that’s the fun part, so it would need to be a song that lends itself to a good video. Some songs, no matter how you might feel about them, are better for videos than others.

Who else is in your team?

Lucy Macrae from The Label is a wonderful and invaluable member of our team. We are always learning from her. She’s a calming and encouraging influence.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

I’m a part-time music teacher and three of my students have formed an awesome four-piece band called The Dawns. I do some mentoring for the band and recently I helped them write and record a song called Oblivious. These girls are really fun to work with and I think they totally have the goods to go a long way. I would definitely encourage people to keep an eye on them and see what they do next.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

It’s wishful thinking, but I would pick Aldous Harding – The Barrel, The VeilsLow Lays The Devil and Marlon WilliamsLove Is A Terrible Thing.

Have any previous Kathy Bates Motel applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

My advice would be to never let any funding application, whether it’s successful or not, alter your plans in any way. Stay true to your artistic vision, keep busy and keep doing what you do. Go for funding if and when it’s there and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out the way you want. There are lots of talented people out there with something to say. Have faith that good art will always find a way out into the world.

The application was not a struggle. We just filled it out with honesty and transparency. It was a lovely surprise that we were accepted. We felt that our social media stats might not have been up to scratch, but you never know until you try.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

I’m addicted to movie-related podcasts. I’ve been loving The Rewatchables. They look at a lot of old movies I like in a very funny and irreverent way. The Basic Instinct, Die Hard and Gone Girl ones are truly hilarious!

Who did you make the video with?

I produced, directed and edited the video. My old friend and collaborator Duncan Cole shot it. We’ve made lots of videos together over the years. Probably the most well-known would be the Goodshirt ‘one-shot’ series of videos from their first album ‘Good’. It was really fun to get the gang back together for this one.

Any last words?

Please watch out for our next single and video which will be dropping very soon. If Damaged Goods is too slow and boring for you please don’t be put off by that. The next one is called Cool Your Heels and it’s significantly more upbeat. The video is coming together really well and it should be of interest to any foot and/or shoe fetishists out there…



New Tracks is a compilation of new music from New Zealand artists which is distributed to broadcast and online platforms on the first of each month. Previously the Kiwi Hit Disc, New Tracks is one of the ways that New Zealand on Air promotes kiwi music to the industry, radio, streaming services, and media. To apply for New Tracks you must have a completed, airplay-ready song and a promotional plan.